Irish Emigrants and the Liverpool Runners

Among the many problems facing the Irish travelers to the New World were the Immigrant brokers and agents of Liverpool. Almost all ships originated from Liverpool for the Americas. The Irish travelers would arrive in Liverpool aboard steamers from the various smaller Irish ports. Upon disembarking, the passengers would be met by the runners, or “sharks,” as J.C. Prendergast describes them. Prendergast was the editor of the Daily Orleanian and an Irish immigrant himself.

The rural peasants were particularly vulnerable to the runners employed by the brokers. Many more ships sailed to New York and Boston than to the Southern ports, such as Charleston, Savannah, Mobile and New Orleans. These country residents literally sold everything they possessed for the trip to the Americas to join family or friends. The brokers knew these travelers had all they owned, typically five to thirty pounds, in their pockets. So, it was in their interest to lie to the travelers and tell them that passage to New York or Boston would lead to easy travel to New Orleans or other distant locales.

Prendergast was reminded of this rapacious conduct by the plight of an illiterate mother with two young children who found her way to New Orleans in 1849. Very likely, her family were refugees from the famine.

A Small Family

She had been sent twelve pounds or about sixty dollars by her brother in Canada. But, the nefarious broker, his name was Lyne or Lynd, had told her the best way to Quebec was through New Orleans. Her ship, the Sailor Prince, had sunk and the mother was then sent to Mobile and then onto New Orleans. She ended up in New Orleans with no money, no food, no possessions and no friends, with two children. The rivers and lakes were now frozen, warned Prendergast. So, there was no way to make a journey to Quebec. The Irish Immigrant Society was prevented by its constitution from offering assistance unless the traveler could provide some portion of the expense. So, there she was, stuck in New Orleans, some 1,800 miles from her brother in the dead of winter.

Prendergast ends his account with a plea for someone to come forward to help the poor mother with her little ones.

On Jan. 9, 1850, the Irish Union Immigrant Society of New Orleans met with the British consul in that city to discuss the matter. The consul said he would inform the Liverpoool mayor of the deceptions practiced by the Liverpool ship brokers. The consul appeared to feel some urgency about the matter.


New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Dec. 22, 1849, p. 2, col. 1

New Orleans Daily Orleanian, Jan. 10, 1850, p. 2, col. 2

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